Emotions from touch + Surprising complexity of animal memories

Emotions from touch

EXCERPT: Touching different types of surfaces may incur certain emotions. This was the conclusion made by the psychologists from the Higher School of Economics in a recent empirical study. Previously, emotional perception was generally studied in relation to visual and audial modalities. The study's results were published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition.

The researchers looked at how humans react to what they see or hear. This fresh research has helped to create the first ever database of textures, the tangible perception of which is associated with happiness, fear, surprise, disgust, anger, or sadness. [...] A total of 21 textures were used in the experiment, namely: brick, granite, glass, glass seashells (texturized), plasticine, leather, rabbit fur, metallic kitchen sponge, rubber, velvet, natural silk, polished wood, a spiky acupressure mat, unpolished wooden block, tile, glass pebbles (smooth), sandpaper, polished marble, concrete, toy slime and clay.

[...] The researchers noticed variations in the intensity of the participants' emotions. For example, sadness, if associated with tactile sensations, only rated at 2 out of 5. People with high levels of alexithymia tended to have more intensive negative emotions. As compared with other respondents, they were highly sensitive to disgust, anger and sadness. In terms of application, the findings on emotional associations with certain textures can be used in product design and marketing. (MORE - details)

The Surprising Complexity of Animal Memories

EXCERPT: . . . Animal consciousness is hard to investigate, but we are getting close by exploring examples of reasoning, such as those given above, that we humans cannot perform unconsciously. We cannot plan a party without consciously thinking about all the things we need; the same must apply when animals plan for the future. The latest neuroscience suggests that consciousness is an adaptive capacity that allows us both to imagine the future and to connect the dots between past events. We are said to have a “workspace” in the brain where we consciously store one event until another one comes along.

Take, for example, taste aversion in rats. It is well known that rats avoid certain toxic foods, even if they don’t become nauseous until hours later. Simple association fails to explain this. Could it be that rats consciously go over the recent past in their minds, thinking back to every food encounter to determine which one was most likely to have made them sick? We certainly do so ourselves after food poisoning and gag at the mere thought of the particular food or restaurant that we believe caused a shock to our digestive system.

The possibility that rats have a mental workspace where they review their own memories is not so farfetched, given the growing evidence that they can “replay” memories of past events in their brain. This kind of memory, known as episodic memory, is different from associative learning, as when a dog learns that by responding to the command “sit,” he will be rewarded with a cookie. To create the association, the trainer has to give the dog the reward right away—an interval of even just a few minutes is not going to be helpful. In contrast to this kind of learning, episodic memory is the capacity to think back to a specific event, sometimes long ago, the way we do when we think of, say, our wedding day. We remember our clothes, the weather, the tears, who danced with whom, and which uncle ended up under the table.

[...] Even if this and other studies fail to directly tell us how aware animals are of their own memories, it is hard to deny the possibility that animals consciously travel along the time dimension and rack their brains for knowledge and experiences. We now have the beginnings of an idea of what consciousness is good for and why it evolved. I suspect that animals capable of consciously probing their experiences and memories also have the capacity to explicitly recognize the bodily upheavals that we call emotions. If they’re going to make decisions based on memories of the past, it probably helps to realize how those experiences made them feel. (MORE - details)

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